Next Man Up Mentality for the UBC Thunderbirds Heading into 2020-21 Season

Browne, Taylor
Taylor Browne and the UBC Thunderbirds will look to build off last year’s Bronze Medal finish at the U Sports Final 8 National Championships despite losing their top three scorers from their 2019-20 roster. (Source: Greg Mason – U Sports) (Header: UBC Thunderbirds)

VANCOUVER, B.C. — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2019-20 season, one that had no shortage of excitement across both U Sports and the CCAA, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead.

The 2020-21 season is going to be one for the history books. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the season has been pushed back until at least January 2021 for most leagues, with Quebec as the exception. The RSEQ has yet to make a decision on whether or not to delay sports until the Winter semester.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2020-21 season.

That’s 112 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally at home.

We are attempting to preview each and every team from coast to coast ahead of the new season. Challenges have emerged in each of the last two seasons as we’ve attempted this feat before, but we’re going to give it another run.

As they say, third time’s the charm. Right?

For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the UBC Thunderbirds Men’s Basketball program.

UBC Bronze
The UBC Thunderbirds brought home a Canada West Gold Medal and U Sports Bronze Medal for their efforts during the 2019-20 season. (Source: Greg Mason – U Sports)

2019-20 in Review

The 2019-20 season was a banner year for the UBC Thunderbirds Men’s Basketball Program, both literally and figuratively.

In the always-competitive Canada West Conference, the Thunderbirds were once again in contention at the top of the standings from the beginning. A regular fixture in the U Sports Top 10 rankings, Head Coach Kevin Hanson and the Thunderbirds were a team to watch as the season moved along.

As the regular season progressed, UBC seemed to get stronger and stronger. They would post a record of 16-4, finishing third in the regular season standings and earning themselves a bye into the Canada West Quarterfinals.

Of their four losses, none were decided by more than 10 points. They dropped a pair of close contests in a weekend sweep at the hands of the Calgary Dinos, and then lost one game to both the Victoria Vikes and Fraser Valley Cascades.

After their losses, it didn’t take long for the Thunderbirds to bounce back and find their rhythm. Following the weekend sweep at the hands of the Dinos, UBC rattled off seven consecutive wins to get back on the right track. Then, after their loss to the Vikes, the Thunderbirds closed the regular season on a five-game winning streak, sending themselves into the post-season riding a wave of momentum.

In the playoffs, the Thunderbirds took on the Saskatchewan Huskies in their quarter-final match-up. The Huskies knocked off the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack in their First Round contest, and were looking to upset the Thunderbirds and keep their season alive.

The teams were tied at the break, 40-all, but UBC would find a way in the second half to put some separation between themselves and the Huskies. The Thunderbirds had five players score in double-figures on the day, and UBC pulled away down the stretch for the 88-77 victory.

Their win over Saskatchewan put the Thunderbirds in a position to exact some revenge. UBC was matched up with Calgary in the semifinals, and they were looking for some retribution after suffering a pair of losses to the Dinos in the regular season. UBC found themselves down after three quarters, but they weren’t out.

Calgary led 60-56 after three quarters, but the Thunderbirds found another gear in the fourth quarter. UBC outscored the Dinos by a 25-12 margin over the final 10 minutes, erasing their four-point deficit and turning it into a nine-point win, 81-72.

In the Canada West Finals, the Thunderbirds met the Alberta Golden Bears, and while the two teams never met in the regular season, there wasn’t a need for any additional motivation. With a Canada West title and a big confidence boost on the line ahead of the U Sports Men’s Basketball Final 8, both teams left it all on the floor.

UBC came out of the gates strong, taking a 24-10 lead after the opening frame. From there, it was a back-and-forth contest right down to the final minute of the game. Alberta held a slim 70-69 lead with just over a minute to play, but a Thunderbirds’ three-pointer pushed them ahead by a pair, 72-70, with 1:31 to plat

Alberta wasn’t able to regain the lead, and the Thunderbirds were crowned 2019-20 Canada West Champions after a thrilling 72-70 win.

With a league championship in tow, UBC quickly turned their attention to Nationals. Their first opponent was the Bishop’s Gaiters in the quarterfinals. The Thunderbirds cruised to a 103-66 win, outscoring the RSEQ Champions by double-digits in the first, third, and fourth quarters along the way.

The semifinals had the Thunderbirds in tough against Rick Plato and the Dalhousie Tigers. After another confidence building win in the quarter-final, UBC was looking to pull off the upset win over the Tigers and advance to the Gold Medal Game.

However, Dalhousie was riding their own wave of momentum and confidence, and they had other ideas on the day. The Tigers led 41-29 at the break, and they blew the game wide open in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Thunderbirds by a 23-7 margin.

UBC suffered its worst loss of the season, an 84-55 defeat at the hands of the Tigers, and were sent to Sunday’s Bronze Medal Game as a result.

In the Bronze Medal Game, the Thunderbirds took on the upstart Western Mustangs, a program that turned a lot of heads and generated a ton of buzz with their run to the OUA Championship Game, and subsequent run at Nationals. Western opened the event with a win over the Golden Bears, before falling to the Carleton Ravens in the semifinals in what was an OUA Championship rematch.

Against Western, UBC once again found themselves trailing at the break. The Mustangs had a 45-41 lead after the opening 20 minutes, but the Thunderbirds made sure that they were the ones to come on top this time around.

UBC outscored the Mustangs 58-37 in the second half, ultimately pulling away for the 99-82 win and the U Sports Bronze Medal, as a result. As was the case all season long, the Thunderbirds found a way to bounce back after a loss, and the biggest stage was no different.

For the Thunderbirds, they brought home the Canada West Gold Medal, and added a Bronze Medal at the Final 8 to cap off what was an all-round successful year for the program. For two of their guards, the win over Western marked the end of their respective collegiate playing careers, while UBC lost another player to the OUA by way of transfer.

Still, with three familiar faces gone heading into the 2020-21 season, the Thunderbirds will look to build off what was a successful 2019-20 campaign and keep the momentum rolling with the group of players they have both coming back and coming into the program.

Who’s Gone?

With the ever-changing situation surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, and its effect on school enrollment for the fall semester and beyond, speculating what the 2020-21 roster could look like for the Thunderbirds is about the best we can do at this point.

What we do know is that UBC will be without its top three scorers from last year’s team that won the Canada West title and brought home the Bronze Medal at the National Championships. The Thunderbirds lose two players to graduation, while another has transferred to the OUA, joining a former UBC teammate in the process.

Guard Jadon Cohee (Langley, B.C.) ended his career with his share of hardware in the 2020-21 season. He capped off his U Sports career by being named a Second Team U Sports All-Canadian, plus a First Team Canada West All-Star in addition to his conference championship and U Sports Bronze Medal.

For the season, Cohee was among the league leaders in several statistical categories. He ranked sixth in scoring (19.1 ppg), second in assists (5.7 apg), eighth in three-point shooting percentage (42.3%), and 23rd in overall field goal percentage (48.8%).

In terms of assists, Cohee posted a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio for the season.

Over his 20 regular season appearances, Cohee was one of the country’s most consistent scorers. He recorded at least 10 points each night out, topping the 20-point mark on nine occasions. To top it all off, Cohee recorded three double-doubles with points and assists over the course of the season.

Also joining Cohee in the graduating class for the Thunderbirds is guard Manroop Clair (Surrey, B.C). Formerly of the Seattle Univ. Redhawks, Clair capped off his U Sports career by averaging 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 40.9% from the field, 35.7% from three-point range, and 80.6% from the free throw line.

With Clair and Cohee, the Thunderbirds had one of the best back court tandems in the country, and one of the most consistent. Clair recorded double-digit points in 15 of the team’s first 16 games of the season. His run was highlighted by UBC’s win over the UBC Okanagan Heat back on November 22nd when he went for 25 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.

Shephard, Grant
Forward Grant Shephard will join former teammate Mason Bourcier with the Carleton Ravens for the 2020-21 season after transferring from UBC at the end of last year. (Source: Valerie Wutti – U Sports)

On the transfer market, the Thunderbirds lose another impact player for the second year in a row, as forward Grant Shephard (Kelowna, B.C.) has committed to Head Coach Taffe Charles and the Carleton Ravens in the OUA.

Shephard is reunited with former UBC teammate Mason Bourcier (Kelowna, B.C.) back on January 6th, 2020.

Last season, the 6’10” forward ranked fifth in the Canada West in terms of field goal percentage, hitting on 59.2% of his attempts from the field. Shephard ranked second on the Thunderbirds in scoring, averaging 15.3 points to go along with his team-high 7.3 rebounds per contest.

Shephard finished the year with three double-doubles to his credit, and he recorded at least seven rebounds on 11 occasions. At 6’10”, he gives the Ravens another big body inside that can impact the game on both ends of the floor.

While the Thunderbirds only lose three players from last year’s roster, they are the team’s top three scorers. All three players leave big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball, and their impact on the team will be tough to replicate.

Fortunately for Head Coach Kevin Hanson and his staff, the Thunderbirds return a group of players that will be looking to step into new and expanded roles while helping UBC build off last season’s banner year.

Who’s Back?

Like most schools and programs all across Canada, the University of British Columbia is awaiting the start of the school year to officially confirm who will be back and who may be taking a year off given the remote learning offering as opposed to in-person classes.

Other scenarios are at play for the Thunderbirds, along with other schools who have International players on their roster. Border closures and restrictions may limit when players are able to return to Canada to continue their schooling and training, assuming they aren’t already in Canada, so that is a situation that we’ll be keeping an eye on as we get closer to the 2020-21 season.

While the Thunderbirds do lose their top three scorers from a season ago, they are expected to return the rest of the roster, a group that will look to step into new roles and help UBC continue where they left off in 2019-20.

Wing Grant Audu (Toronto, Ont.) is the team’s top returning scorer, having averaged 13.6 points per game on 53.1% shooting from the field and 36.5% from three-point range. For the year, Audu ranked 12th in the Canada West in field goal percentage.

Over the course of the 2019-20 season, Audu showed that he was more than capable of leading the offense for the Thunderbirds. From January 9th through 25th, a span of six games, Audu went for at least 20 points in five of the six contests. Then, to close the regular season, the Toronto native recorded four straight games in double-figures, showing that he’s more than capable of stepping into an expanded role on offense as early as this season.

In addition to his offensive production, Audu averaged 3.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Also returning in the back court is guard Zack Moore (Bellevue, Wash.). The fifth-year guard will be completing his Master’s of Management degree while also looking to build off last year’s strong season and cap his career on a high note, both on and off the court.

Last season, Moore averaged 8.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game over 20 regular season appearances. He shot 41.1% from the floor and 32.1% from three-point range. Moore, the Thunderbirds’ top returning rebounder in 2020-21, is coming off a season in which he recorded at least six rebounds on 11 occasions, and put together a pair of double-doubles.

The 6’5” guard will be in his second and final year at UBC after transferring from the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in the NCAA.

Up front, the Thunderbirds will look to the likes of 6’9″ forward Lincoln Rosebush (Guelph, Ont.) to step into an expanded role with the departure of Shephard. Last season, Rosebush averaged 4.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5% from the field over his 19 regular season appearances.

Guard Taylor Browne (Surrey, B.C.) is another member of the UBC back court rotation that should see an increase in both minutes and production this season. Browne posted 7.2 points per game last year on 40.5% shooting from the field and 38.8% from three-point range.

Over the course of the entire season, Browne recorded double-digits in six contests. Against the MacEwan Griffins back in January, Browne went for double-digits on back-to-back nights. He opened the weekend set with 25 points (7-of-13 FG) on January 24th, and then followed that up with 15 points (5-of-8 FG) the next night.

Cruz-Dumont, Jack
Jack Cruz-Dumont is one of several returnees for the Thunderbirds that will be looking to step into an expanded role in 2020-21. (Source: U Sports)

Jack Cruz-Dumont (Richmond, B.C.) and Brian Wallack (White Rock, B.C.) are also expected back in 2020-21, bolstering the back court rotation in the process. Cruz-Dumont averaged 5.6 points per game on 48.3% shooting last season, while Wallack averaged 4.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest on 51.8% shooting from the field.

Despite the names listed above, the biggest returnee for UBC could very well be a player that didn’t suit up in 2019-20, but spent the year getting acclimated with the program. Guard Triston Matthews (North Vancouver, B.C.) sat out last season as a red-shirt after transferring from the UBC Okanagan Heat.

Back in 2018-19, Matthews averaged 17.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest while shooting 41.8% from the field. With the losses of Cohee and Clair in the back court, Matthews should take on a starring role with the Thunderbirds from the outset of the season.

While losing their top three scorers will pose some challenges, the Thunderbirds return a group of players who will be ready to pick up the slack and keep UBC near the top of the Canada West standings. Officially adding Matthews to the rotation will give Coach Hanson a go-to weapon on offense, while also giving the other returnees some time to get acclimated to their new roles.

Incoming Talent

With their top three scorers on the way out after last season, there will be plenty of opportunities for both returnees and newcomers alike to compete for minutes from the start in 2020-21. The Thunderbirds have confirmed a total of seven names in their 2020-21 recruiting class thus far, bringing a mix of veteran experience and youthful excitement to the roster.

Foreman, Kyle
Former Boston University guard Kyle Foreman will return to the court in 2020-21 as a member of the UBC Thunderbirds. (Source: Boston University Terriers)

In terms of veteran additions, UBC has taken to the NCAA for one of their biggest transfers of the off-season. Guard Kyle Foreman (Bellevue, Wash.) comes to the Thunderbirds after two seasons in the NCAA with the Boston Univ. Terriers in the Patriot League.

Back in 2016-17, the 6’1″ guard averaged 6.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest.

Joining Foreman in the back court by way of transfer is James Woods (Surrey, B.C.). The 6’1” guard played two seasons with the Central Wyoming Rustlers, and averaged 14.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game on 52.7% shooting from the field and 42.4% from three-point range just last season.

In 2019-20, Woods recorded double-digit points in 24 of his 31 appearances for the Rustlers, and he will look to put up similar numbers at UBC.

Up front, Jamesley Jerome (Montreal, Que.) makes the cross-country journey from the AUS to the Canada West. Jerome comes to the Thunderbirds after transferring from the UPEI Panthers, where he averaged 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in 2019-20.

The 6’7″ Jerome ranked fifth in the AUS in terms of rebounds per game last season.

Rounding out UBC’s group of four transfer student-athletes is guard Esaie Maurency (Repentigny, Que.). The 6’3″ guard comes to the Thunderbirds from the Champlain-St. Lambert Cavaliers in the RSEQ, and while he has CCAA experience, he will be a first-year student-athlete at the U Sports level.

Last season, Maurency posted 12.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game while shooting 41.5% from the field.

After adding four players with veteran experience, the Thunderbirds have added three players from high school programs, all of whom will look to play prominent roles with the program over their respective careers.

Forward Tobi Akinkunmi (Calgary, Alta.), guard Garrett Rooker (League City, Tex.), and guard/forward Nikola Guzina (Vancouver, B.C.) have committed to UBC for the 2020-21 season.

Akinkunmi, a 6’6” forward, comes to the Thunderbirds from Western Canada High School, while the 6’8” Guzina will stay close to home after playing his high school basketball at King George Secondary. Rooker will add size to the back court rotation at 6’3″, and comes to UBC from Clear Springs High.

From top to bottom, it’s an intriguing recruiting class for the Thunderbirds. They have added some veteran experience which will help with their personnel losses from last season, and they’ve added a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. They have players who can help right away, while others can be developed and will help to shape the future of the program in the coming years.

For the Thunderbirds, things will look a bit different in 2020-21, and there are some questions surrounding the rotation and the roster.

Who will be the go-to guy on offense? Who will be the impact post player after Shephard’s departure? Who will step into what role? How will the newcomers fit into the system? Will there even be a 2020-21 season?

A lot of questions will be waiting for an answer, even after the season officially begins. However, one thing is for certain when it comes to the Thunderbirds. There will be a ‘next man up’ mentality for the program on both ends of the floor.

With a sizable group back from last year’s Bronze Medal team, they have Nationals experience and know what it takes to get there. How they use that experience this season to their benefit remains to be seen, but don’t expect the Thunderbirds to fall too far from the top of the league standings any time soon.

Be sure to bookmark our 2020-21 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s